M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! I have also compiled a list of horror films that worth noting to tack on to my Best of Countdown. Some of these films just barely missed the main Best of list and some are just films released through the year I thought stood out in one way or another. Do not forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. And please chime in down in the comments and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or you can counter with your own darn list! Enjoy this Best of Horror Extra!
Released on February 14, 2020. Available on digital download and On Demand from Cranked Up Films!!
AFTER MIDNIGHT (2019)
aka SOMETHING ELSE
Directed by Jeremy Gardner, Christian Stella
Written by Jeremy Gardner
Starring Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Justin Benson, Ashley Song, Nicola Masciotra, Henry Zebrowski, Keith Arbuthnot
Find out more about this film here and here!
Looking for a new horror flick to watch with your honey for that romantic night at home? Check out AFTER MIDNIGHT, the new film from Jeremy Gardner who burst on to the horror scene a few years ago with his excellent zombie survival horror film THE BATTERY. Since then, Gardner has shown up on the other side of the camera in BLISS, PSYCHOPATHS, and a few other standout horror films. AFTER MIDNIGHT is Gardner’s sophomore effort and it proves that the guy has what it takes to make potent horror with personality, charisma, and heart.
When his longtime girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) leaves him with a vague note and no explanation as to if or when she will be back, Hank (Gardner) begins to go a little batty in his partially renovated home in the middle of nowhere (from the looks of it, it looks like the South Carolina countryside). As Hank turns to alcohol and self-loathing, it appears some kind of creature has emerged from the forest surrounding the house hellbent on getting inside.
With THE BATTERY, Jeremy Gardner was able to tell a poignant tale of two best friends trying to survive a cataclysmic event—a zombie apocalypse. While this story had been told before, what set it apart was the intimate and sensitive take on the emotional weight such a catastrophe can take on a person and how that can strain a friendship to its limits. Gardner tells a similar story, but instead of destroying the entire world around him, he decides to destroy Hank’s immediate world when his girlfriend leaves him. The couple was building a life together in the home Hank inherited from his relatives and though Hank seemed content with living in a relationship that doesn’t see marriage in the foreseeable future if ever, it becomes pretty clear through the various flashbacks that Abby had grown weary of Hank’s adolescence which has now extended into his mid-thirties. The only thing really holding Hank together is the hard work of Abby, which is made all the clearer how far and fast Hank descends without her.
AFTER MIDNIGHT does a great job of opening with a thrilling situation where we have no idea what’s going on and then backtracking to explain it all thoroughly and painstakingly. We see Hank and Abby at the beginning of their relationship and how intense their love is. We also see that love strain through the years as both Abby and Hank seem to use this home in the middle of nowhere as a sort of purgatory to keep them both from growing and maturing. The more we get to know these two, the more they seemed doomed, but still there is that shred of hope that something will happen to bring them together. This is a complex and sophisticated way of telling a story and Gardner hits every beat with ease.
The night scenes when the monster attacks from the darkness and the few scenes Gardner leaves the sanctity of his home to hunt the creature are done effectively well. While not revealing what the monster is or if it even only exists in Hank’s mind, Gardner and his co-director Christian Stella still are able to make the scenes tense and scary by using forced angles that just seem to miss capturing the creature on film, the deft use of sound, or just showing bits and pieces of it though keyholes and holes in the walls. All of this makes for a fantastic reveal by the end of the film which relies on some impressive practical effects.
The dialog of AFTER MIDNIGHT feels comfortable and natural. These are arguments and discussions I have had before with my significant other. They are going to be recognizable because I think the themes Gardner wrestles with are common with men in their thirties, still searching for that dream, but not wanting to settle on anything specifically in hopes not to miss out on other opportunities. Women are going to identify with Brea Grant’s Abby as I feel that despite the messages of strong independent women that is often promoted in big budget movies, there is still a yearning for some of the aspects of relationships that some might label as traditional. Grant’s Abby is no pushover. She’s conflicted frustrated with Hank, but she still loves him. Garder is a giant personality on top of his talent as a filmmaker and carrying a lot of this film on his own shoulders as he is the sole person in frame most of the time, but when Grant is on screen, she goes toe to toe with him and really does stand out as a strong and endearing character. By far, I believe this is Brea Grant’s best performance to date.
If there’s a chink in AFTER MIDNIGHT’s armor it is that there are two extended scenes of dialog late in the movie that I feel needed to be edited down. I get that these two scenes are long takes with little cuts and most likely seem to be meant to be crucial to the way the film plays out. But both scenes seem to go on an awfully long time and sort of skids the momentum of the film down to a crawl, just as the action was starting to rev up. This happens twice in the last half hour of the film and really messes with the flow. The end of the film picks up the pace once again, but this erratic pacing works against it rather than complimenting it.
That said, this is a film that dissects relationships with a sharp blade and isn’t afraid to sludge through the messy spatter that most relationship films dare not tread. These are complex and messed up people, which makes them…human and thus, downright relatable. The film also sports some great atmospheric scenes with the surrounding forest, some great interior design to the partially reconstructed mansion, another great collection of songs from what seems to be friends of Gardner’s, and some cool callbacks to THE BATTERY that only the deftest of eyes and ears will catch. Both Gardner and Grant deliver some of their best performances, plus it’s got an awesome monster…or does it? That would be telling and I’m not going to ruin it for you. Just see it yourself and expect some laid-back sentiment, pulse-pounding tension, raw emotion, and a couple you can’t help but root for to make it through it all.
THE 2019-2020 EXTRA!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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